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The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter


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BEATRIX POTTER: The Fulfilment Not of Fact But of Fancy

I was not an enthusiastic reader as a child, nor in my early adolescence for that matter. I read what I had to in primary school and poured my energies into playing and then organized sport, into trying to make money and then making it, into watching TV and then listening to music after my mother sold the lighted-chirping box, into having fun with my friends and into growing from my birth in 1944 to puberty in 1957, into attending meetings with my parents in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party, in the churches of various Christian denominations and in a new religion which had been in Canada for only half a century at the time--the Baha'i Faith. So it was that I never came across Beatrix Potter’s children’s books. Potter died just seven months before I was born. She was a woman ahead of her time. She saw the money-making potential in her most famous character and created the first patented soft-toy in 1903. He was Peter Rabbit---the oldest licensed toy character. She also left an astounding legacy of stories, characters, art and 4000 acres of unspoiled landscape to the world by means of England’s National Trust. ABC1 screened Miss Potter at 8:30 tonight, Christmas Day. This delightful story of her life from the age of 32 to 47, from about 1898 to about 1913, was a most fitting bit of TV for Christmas Day in Australia. Potter is a post-Victorian and pre-modern writer. Her work is not a moralizing series of books; indeed, one critic calls her work “close to a series of immoral tales.”(1) In my half a century of writing, 1950 to 2010, I have only written the following sentences about this famous writer: “A visitor to Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm in England's the Lake District exclaimed, "This is how I always imagined Peter-Rabbit-Land!” But Scotland, and not the Lake District, inspired Potter’s famous tale of Peter Rabbit. What we hold in our imagination is, so often, not fact but fancy--how we wish things, how we think things are. But, in reality, they are not!”(3) Her writing, her 23 small format children's books, were the fulfilment not of the facts of life but of a rich imagination, of an acute artistic sensibility, and of simple and not-so-simple fancy. People in our world demand of heritage an imagined, not an actual, past. Sites wilfully contrived often serve heritage better than those faithfully preserved—at least sometimes. This was true of The Beatles' famous Abbey Road crossing.(2)-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Humphrey Carpenter in Katherine Chandler, "Thoroughly Post-Victorian, Pre-Modern Beatrix,” Children's Literature Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2007, The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 287–307; (2) “The zebra-crossing made famous by The Beatles is given heritage status,”, 25 December 2010; and (3) I did refer to Potter 2 or 3 times in my essays and assorted writings from 1950 to 1995, but these literary efforts are not kept in my computer directory. Joining the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace is the pedestrian crossing near those Abbey Road studios which the Beatles made so iconic in 1969. The crossing which appears on the Fab Four's 1969 album title Abbey Road has become one of the capital's biggest attractions: tourists renting London holiday homes venture there to mimic Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison & Ringo Starr just crossing that famous road. The black and white crossing which is thought to have moved slightly from its original position, has now been given official recognition by heritage minister John Penrose. The nearby studios were listed in February 2010. They were the actually preserved, not wilfully contrived, not some imagined, made-up past in ’69.(1) (1) The zebra-crossing made famous by The Beatles was given heritage status this week. Some critics, with a sense of the importance of historical accuracy and detail, have expressed concern that the site of this crossing is not the actual site. That the crossing has been moved to fit the needs of municipal, or perhaps national, heritage preferences, these historical and anthropological connoisseurs argue--is a sad commentary on modern commercial dictates. Ron Price 25 December 2010 __________________

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